For Immediate Release: June 19, 2013
Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107
(Washington, D.C.)--President Barack Obama's proposals today in Berlin for cutting the oversized U.S. nuclear arsenal and reducing global nuclear weapons dangers are welcome and overdue.
Since the days of the Kennedy administration, U.S. leadership to reduce and eliminate the nuclear threat has been critical. To succeed, however, Obama and his team will need to sustain high-level focus and energy on these urgent and tough nuclear security challenges.
The United States can and should reduce its arsenal well below 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, which is still more than enough nuclear firepower to deter any current or potential nuclear adversary. The "one-third" cuts outlined by the President are a good start, but it is only 200-300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago.
U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty. The two presidents could achieve similar and more rapid results through parallel, reciprocal reductions of strategic warheads--to well below 1,000 within the next five years, which could be verified under the 2010 New START treaty.
Bipartisan national security leaders agree that further, deeper nuclear reductions would increase U.S. security, lead to budget savings, and help pressure other nuclear-armed states to join in the disarmament enterprise.
Further nuclear reductions would also allow the administration to scale back unaffordable, overly ambitious Pentagon plan for building a new generation of strategic nuclear delivery systems and rebuilding five types of nuclear warheads. A 2013 assessment by the Arms Control Association identifies $39 billion in taxpayer savings over the next decade if the United States right-sizes its nuclear force to 1,000 or fewer strategic deployed nuclear warheads.
The President should also provide stronger leadership to overcome NATO and Russian inertia regarding tactical nuclear weapons. More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, there is no military rationale for Russia to maintain some 2,000 tactical nuclear bombs, half of which are on obsolete naval and air defense systems. Nor is there any military requirement for the U.S. to keep 180 air-delivered nuclear bombs in Europe, which could cost $8 billion or more to refurbish. The President should begin the process of removing the U.S. tactical bombs and call on Russia to reciprocate.
Stronger U.S. leadership is also necessary to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
The President must put renewed energy behind the on-again-off again negotiations to limit Iran's nuclear potential and achieve a more effective inspections system. There is time for diplomacy but that time should not be wasted. The President also needs to re-engage North Korea in serious talks to halt its nuclear and missile programs, which have and can again reduce the threat it poses to Asia and to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The President's renewed commitment to U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)--which prohibits all nuclear test explosions anywhere--is important and welcome, but requires serious follow-though to win the support of the Senate.
Since the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, a ban on nuclear testing has been a U.S. national security objective. Today, a legally binding, verifiable ban on all nuclear testing is vital to prevent states from improving their existing arsenals and it would make it harder for potential nuclear powers like, like Iran, to perfect deliverable nuclear warheads in the future.
In 2009, Obama said his administration would pursue "immediate and aggressive" steps to secure ratification and there is strong support for action from bipartisan national security leaders and U.S. allies. Ratification is possible if the administration launches the kind of effort it successfully pursued to win approval of the New START agreement in 2010.
To get the process started, President Obama should announce the appointment of a senior, high-level White House CTBT coordinator, or task force, within the next several weeks. This would help to engage Senators on the issues surrounding the CTBT and begin the fact-based conversation that such important matters deserve.
The President's decision to extend the Nuclear Security Summit to a fourth meeting in 2016 is very important and should help plug the remaining gaps in the global nuclear security regime.
While the Obama administration has focused high-level attention to the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and spurred important progress globally to lock-down vulnerable stockpiles, the current system still lacks universal standards and reporting requirements. President Obama should take this opportunity to bolster the nuclear security enterprise and augment funding for vital U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs in the years ahead.
As President Kennedy said five decades ago, "the weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us." Today every man, woman and child still lives under a threat of nuclear war through accidents, miscalculation, or terrorist madness.
In the months ahead, President Obama must re-energize and sustain the nuclear risk reduction enterprise and U.S. policymakers must overcome partisan politics to help address today's grave nuclear challenges.--Daryl G. Kimball
The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.